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Published On: Thu, Oct 16th, 2014

Ebola crisis: WHO focuses on preventing regional spread

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A fast response team has now been set up to deal with Ebola cases in the US to avert a major outbreak, Alastair Leithead reports.

A major outbreak of Ebola in the US and elsewhere in the West is unlikely given the strong health systems, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Fifteen African countries are being prioritised, top WHO official Isabelle Nuttall told a news conference in Geneva. They will receive more help in areas including prevention and protection.

The transmission of the Ebola virus remains intense in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, she said. There was a “spike” in the Guinean capital, Conakry, said Dr Nuttall, and “intense transmission” in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, she spoke of “significant underreporting” and problems with data-gathering making it hard to reach firm conclusions. But there was a drop in the number of cases in Lofa district.

Overall, cases were doubling every four weeks, said Dr Nuttall, the WHO’s Director of Global Capacities Alerts and Reponse, and the death toll was expected to go above 4,500 this week.

Neighbouring countries, including Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mali, must be prepared, she said.

“We will ramp up our support to the countries. We will work with them on a plan. But a plan needs to be changed into action.”

Action will include:

Rapid response teams Engaging at community level Training in infection prevention and protectionHaving laboratories in place .

Earlier, the WHO said the introduction of Ebola in the US and elsewhere was a matter of concern, but a major outbreak was unlikely given the strength of health systems in the West.

In another development, the European Union is to examine whether exit screening at West African airports is effective. EU health ministers also agreed to try to co-ordinate measures taken at EU airports. Some countries, such as the UK, have introduced screening.

Texas nurse

US President Barack Obama also said the risk of Americans getting the virus was “extremely low”, although he ordered a “much more aggressive response”.

The US is investigating how a nurse infected when treating a victim in Texas was allowed to travel on a plane. Officials are trying to trace the 132 people who flew with Amber Vinson. US federal health officials will appear before a congressional committee on Thursday to answer questions about their handling of the crisis.

New US Ebola control measures

A “site manager” will supervise how workers at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital put on and take off protective clothing

Two nurses from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta will offer “enhanced training” in Dallas

An immediate response team will travel to the site of any future Ebola diagnoses to hit the ground “within hours”

New guidelines for testing at hospitals throughout the US, with special emphasis on asking questions about travel history

Could it spread around US?

Confusing death figures

Thomas Eric Duncan was the first person to be diagnosed in the US with Ebola after he flew in from Liberia. He was treated at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital but later died.

In testimony prepared for Thursday’s congressional hearing, Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, apologises for mistakes made in treating Mr Duncan.

“We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry,” he says.

Amber Vinson is one of two nurses who contracted Ebola after treating Mr Duncan. Both wore face shields, hazardous materials suits and protective footwear as they drew blood and dealt with Mr Duncan’s body fluids and it remains unclear how they were infected.

US media reaction

The New York Times says the appearance of the latest Ebola patient “provided more signs of concern about federal officials’ ability to control the spread of the disease… and indications that the issue was becoming politicised”

A report by USA Today says health officials now believe Ebola patients should be treated at four specially designed US clinics rather than at hospitals around the country. Ebola is becoming “the next great American panic”, writes Chico Harlan in the Washington Post

The Christian Science Monitor looks at how much large donations, such as the $25m (£16m) given by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, can help fight the spread of the disease

Ms Vinson later contacted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to inform it she was travelling on a plane on Monday – Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth.

She reported a temperature of 37.5C (99.5F) and CDC director Thomas Frieden said she should not have travelled on a commercial flight.

However, another health official told the New York Times later that Ms Vinson was not prevented from flying because the temperature was mildly elevated and was in a category not covered by the CDC.

In other developments on Thursday:

Another Spanish healthcare worker, who came into contact with a nurse already infected, is being tested for the virus. An Air France passenger with a high fever, reportedly from Nigeria, is to be examined in hospital for Ebola symptoms after arriving in Madrid from Paris.

Sierra Leone says the last district not to have registered any Ebola cases – Koinadugu in the far north – has now reported two infections

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein says his agency is drawing up guidelines so that Ebola-hit nations do not violate human rights with quarantine rules.

How not catch Ebola

Avoid direct contact with sick patients as the virus is spread through contaminated body fluids

Wear goggles to protect eyes Clothing and clinical waste should be incinerated and any medical equipment that needs to be kept should be decontaminated People who recover from Ebola should abstain from sex or use condoms for three months.

Source: BBC African

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